I am using the word " progress" not in terms of being modern,or progressive, but in the old sense of a " Royal Progress" which is defined as " the procession of a monarch in stately fashion through his realm."
Wherever he goes-- Africa, Ireland, Germany, or the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI manages to give a regal tone to the trip that has not been seen since the days of the late Pius XII. He also usually manages to come off as out of touch and to put his Prada-shod foot squarely in his mouth. It will be interesting to see how his tour of the UK, which begins today, turns out.
So far, so good. He had a cool but cordial welcome from fellow head of church and state, Queen Elizabeth II, and began his "progress" down Princes Street in his new pope-mobile.
Why he decided to start his tour of the UK in Edinburgh, I will never know. I get a picture of dour Calvinists counting their Protestant pennies and not being very interested in buying a ticket to see the pope. Not to worry, there seem to be lots of people lining the route and a crowd of 55,000 is expected at an open air Mass in Birmingham this week-end where the pope will beatify John,Cardinal Newman, an English convert and soon to be saint who is nothing if not a controversial choice for this honor.
In London, slavering secularists are waiting to scream for legal injunctions while survivers of clerical abuse prepare their own briefs. A member of the papal entourage, German Cardinal , Walter Kaspar (a specialist in relations with The Church of England) has already been dropped from the party for observing in an interview with a German magazine that arriving at Heathrow Airport is like "arriving in a third world country" and complaining about "an aggressive new atheism" in Britain.
The sense of hope and reconciliation among Christians that Pope John XXIII held out close to half a century ago is pretty much gone. The Papal Progress that begins today should be an interesting event. It sure is filled with possible pitfalls. So pass the popcorn and let's wait and see what happens when the other red shoe drops.